Farewell, blues boy

May 15th, 2015 at 10:17 am

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B.B. King says that “Every Day I Have The Blues.” The world got a little bluer today. B.B. King died Thursday. He was 89.

When the words “hospice care” showed up in recent coverage of B.B. King‘s health, I did my best to both prepare and shield myself from the reality.

Still, I woke up this morning to news of his passing, and it shook me. Riley B. King, aka Blues Boy King, aka B.B. King, also commonly known as America’s quintessential blues artist, died last night at his Las Vegas home. He was 89.

The New York Times did a great job with his obituary. If you’ve never read King’s back story, which includes many important references to Arkansas, including the incident that gave a name to his guitar, do yourself a favor.

My job often provides me with amazing opportunities, including two chances to watch B.B. perform. The first took place in January 2008 at The Auditorium in Eureka Springs. That show ranks high on the list of favorite sets I’ve ever watched.

The second of the two took place in September 2010 at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. (Sorry for the lost photos – an old server swallowed them, apparently)

There was this glorious intangible element about his playing. He famously couldn’t play chords well, and he was the first to admit that. But rather he emoted guitar, lived through the instrument, perspired out songs. His tone and vocal rumblings set marks for what bluesman ought to achieve.

But just as importantly, King was a blues ambassador, its most popular proponent when the genre was all but dead. He found creative ways to promote it, such as the very good album he released with in 2000 with Eric Clapton, “Riding With The King.”

B.B. King started poor, the son of sharecroppers. He lived through segregation. And he persevered as a testament to believing in your craft and finding your calling.

His contributions, both musically and culturally, cannot be understated. He will be missed.

R.I.P., B.B. King.

The weekend in live music, with Steve Miller Band and more

May 15th, 2015 at 5:03 am

Steve MillerWEB

Steve Miller Band


Sorry if I’m a bit preoccupied today.

You see, my girlfriend is flying home right how — right now! — after a three-week teaching assignment in China.

I hope the big ol “Jet Airliner” helps her “Fly Like an Eagle” right back to Fayetteville.

Yes, my jokes are always this bad. But one of the first things we’ll do upon her return is attend the Saturday night (May 16) concert by Steve Miller Band at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers. Miller had hits with both of those songs.

Known for a string of hits in the mid-1970s, actually — among the others “The Joker,” “Take the Money and Run” and “Jungle Love” — the Steve Miller Band blended California cool with rock and rhythm and blues. The band sold more than 13 million copies of its 1978 greatest hits album alone. The band’s headlining tour will bring it to the AMP at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets range from $31 to $75.50 and are available at arkansasmusicpavilion.com.

Looking for something else?

Now more than 30 years after meeting and marrying, Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore still join together for the thing that brought them together in the first place – performing music. The duo, both with individual accolades, often team up as they did for the 2014 album “Love Runner,” their second studio recording together. Having recently returned from a folk festival in Scotland, O’Brien and Moore are back on the road in the states. They’ll stop Saturday for a show at the Fayetteville Underground on the Fayetteville square. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and admission is $20.

Other shows in the area this weekend include a set by Abram Shook on Sunday (May 17) at Backspace, and a Block Street Block Party post-party the same evening with Mountain Sprout at George’s Majestic Lounge.

Speaking of Block Street Block Party, check back in a minute for more music news.

You can also see Rochelle Bradshaw & Hypnotion at Smoke & Barrel Tavern tonight (May 15) and a dozen other shows, which you can find on the calendar to the right.

What’s on your agenda for the weekend?

The weekend in live music, with Barrett Baber and more

May 8th, 2015 at 5:03 am

Barrett Baber

Barrett Baber

Here’s one of the reasons I love Northwest Arkansas: It’s so diverse, and so busy.

Finalizing our plans for today’s What’s Up! section, I noticed the following events taking place: a world-class film festival, a beer sampling and a demolition derby.

Awesome. Seriously awesome.

But I hope live music doesn’t get completely crowded out, because there’s some good stuff happening around town this weekend.

Musician Barrett Baber is hoping to continue the momentum provided by his “Grammy Gig of a Lifetime” contest win, which gave him the opportunity to perform a pre-party for the 2014 Grammy Awards. His newest project, a six-song EP titled “Falling Again,” comes out today featuring music he describes as “country soul.” Baber and his band will celebrate the occasion with a release party at 9:30 p.m. today (May 8) at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville. Madison Watkins will open the show. Admission is $7.

Also, the songwriting duo of Jay Ungar and Molly Mason will make a pair of stops in Arkansas this weekend, including one in Fayetteville. The duo is well known in acoustic music circles, having performed on “A Prairie Home Companion” and also written the music for the Ken Burns documentary “The Civil War.” The latter project contained the song “Ashokan Farewell,” which was part of the documentary’s Grammy-winning soundtrack and was also nominated for an Emmy. Ungar and Mason perform at 7:30 p.m. today at the Fayetteville Underground. Admission to the performance is $20. They play Saturday evening at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View.

George’s has another good one on Saturday (May 9) night. Colorado bluegrass/jam act Elephant Revival are always great live. So are Smokey & The Mirror, the local openers.

Elsewhere, Terra Studios hosts its annual Spring Music Festival on Sunday (May 10). My colleague April Robertson has that story, if you’re interested in learning more.

Don’t forget that tickets for two upcoming shows at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion go on sale this morning. Tickets for Hank Williams Jr. and .38 Special on Aug. 22 go on sale at 10 a.m. Tickets for Fifth Harmony on July 24 go on sale at noon today. Tickets are available by calling 443-5600 or via tickets.waltonartscenter.org.

Soon in tunes: The Phunkberry Music Festival, near Eureka Springs

May 6th, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Dumpstaphunk photo by David Bergman

Dumpstaphunk photo by David Bergman

Jon Walker threw a party several years ago. He threw another, and people started inviting their friends over, too.

Suddenly, he had too many people in his yard. So the Highberry Music Festival moved from Walker’s home in Rogers to Byrd’s Adventure Center near Ozark. The success of that experience led Walker and his partners in Deadhead Productions to believe they could create another festival, too. Or maybe a third, too.

One of the new festivals, Phunkberry, debuts this weekend on The Farm, located west of Eureka Springs. The funk-centric lineup features Dumpstaphunk, Kung Fu, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band and Bernie Worrell Orchestra along with many local funk bands.

Walker recently talked to me about the festival and his new festival grounds. You can read my story in Friday’s What’s Up! section.

Or, you can experience the event for yourself. Tickets to the festival range from $40 for a Saturday-only pass or $75 for a full-event pass.

Walker and his partners have also announced the bluegrass festival Hillberry, which wil take place in August at The Farm.

Taking flight: Dana Louise and the Glorious Birds

May 5th, 2015 at 9:37 am

Dana Louise and the Glorious Birds

Dana Louise and the Glorious Birds

Local duo Trout Fishing in America, a Grammy-nominated folk act, are now playing as side men.

But the work is no ordinary project.

Dana Louise and the Glorious Birds release a new album tonight (May 5) at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville. Dana Louise is Dana Idlet, daughter of Trout Fishing’s Ezra Idlet. And joined by fellow Trout and bass player Keith Grimwood and local multi-instrumentalist Adams Collins, the quartet plays when Trout isn’t busy with their own schedule or Dana Louise isn’t performing as a solo act.

My colleague Becca Martin-Brown wrote about how it all came together and the band’s thoughts for the future. You can read her story about the Glorious Birds online.

Admission to the CD release party, which starts at 7 p.m., is $5.

Bentonville Film Festival announces musical acts

May 5th, 2015 at 8:27 am

Samantha Crain photo by Todd Roeth

Samantha Crain photo by Todd Roeth

I’ve written a lot about the Bentonville Film Festival in the print edition of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But not here, because the focus is always live music. You can read my latest story, if you like, which details how to get tickets for sold-out events.

But today officials with the festival unveiled several music acts that will perform during the course of the festival.

Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot, will perform at today (May 5)’s opening ceremony. The Railers, named as a band to watch by Rolling Stone magazine, will perform at the closing ceremony on May 9.

In between are many artists representing the nation, region and closer to home. Among the shows is the My Country Nation concert featuring Meg & Liz on Wednesday (May 6) at Arend Arts Center in Bentonville.

Many of the artists also perform at the official music venue of the festival — The Ice House of Bentonville. Foreman and Samantha Crain perform there tonight. Meg & Liz, Barrett Baber and Ashley McBryde perform Wednesday (May 6). Groovement and Ashley Nichole & Taylor Lane have the honors on Thursday (May 7). Smokey and the Mirror and Brynn Elliott both perform May 8. And Breaking Silence and Funk Factory close everything out on May 9.

Tickets are available at the door. Admission is $50 per night.

Concert review: Chicago, May 3 at the Walmart AMP

May 4th, 2015 at 9:08 pm

Robert Lamm of the band Chicago in concert at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media.

Robert Lamm of the band Chicago in concert at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media.

My dad and I had a tiny debate about the band Chicago on Sunday (May 3) morning in the hours before the music act from that city took the stage at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers. My dad, a savvy listener who helped me cut my teeth on classic rock, mused how unique Chicago was, considering they were led by a horn section. No, I countered, the band’s sound is led by the guitars and keyboards, and the brass instruments act as a supplement. In support of my argument, I hummed him the riff from “25 or 6 to 4.” (In my lucky world, this qualifies as a disagreement with my father).

I must admit that dad was right.

The very stage arrangement gave credence to that theory, with the horns front and center and instruments such as drums and keyboard relegated to a back riser. Even the guitar of Keith Howland came from the side of the stage, although he like the other members was free to roam around the stage and took advantage of that opportunity. It helps too that each of the horn players — Lee Loughnane on trumpet, Walter Parazaider on saxophone and flute and Jimmy Pankow on trombone — are original members of Chicago, meaning they’ve logged 48 years in the band. Joined by fellow original member Robert Lamm on keyboards and for one song, acoustic guitar, they make one of the longest-tenured combos in rock music. They get help from a cast of newer additions such as Howland and Jason Scheff, who has the tough task of replacing the bass licks and tenor vocals of Peter Cetera, who left Chicago in the mid-1980s. Scheff has been in Chicago ever since.

Lee Loughnane of Chicago

Lee Loughnane of Chicago

All told, Chicago sounded like a very reasonable replica of itself. The horns blared. Howland threw out his riffs. And keyboard player Lou Pardini played prominently on “Ballet for a Girl From Buchannon,” a seven-song medley the band played to close out the first half of the set. Yes, there were seven-song medleys, and a full second half. The band took a 20-minute intermission, but split between the two halves and the encore, cranked out 34 songs in about 2 hours and 10 minutes of stage time. Key to making the whole thing work was the level of enjoyment from onstage. The band members each maintained their own level of reaction and enthusiasm, save for the trombone player Pankow, who was on an entirely different level. He never stopped dancing, winking and pointing into the audience when he wasn’t belting out a note. He stole every moment in which he played a role.

Walter Parazaider of Chicago

Walter Parazaider of Chicago

The crowd never quite returned Pankow’s exuberance. This group assembled Sunday skewed much older than those for the first two events in the AMP’s young season. There were also fewer of them, with perhaps 5,000 or so out on a nice spring night. But the crowd did oblige during the band’s biggest hits, which all came rolling out toward the end of the night. “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration” were issued back to back, for instance, as were “Saturday in the Park” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.”

One factor my dad and I never got around to discussing was the schmaltz factor of the evening. There was a certain silliness to the proceedings, and Pankow wasn’t the only one dancing and winking. I laughed more than ever expected to, and I don’t know if Chicago ever courted that kind of response. But I noticed it happening all around me, too, except for the gentlemen two seats over, who clearly loved Chicago more than any other band on the great wide earth. I don’t think it amounts to laughing at someone when they smile and wink in your general direction. And I don’t think Chicago cared. They were having fun on their own accord.

On the way: Hank Williams Jr., Aug. 22 at the AMP

May 4th, 2015 at 11:45 am

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All of Hank Jr.’s rowdy friends are coming to play. And he’s coming to play the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion this summer.

[Update at 12:32 p.m. May 4: Within minutes of getting this post up, official confirmation reached my inbox. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday (May 8) through the venue’s website and range from $41-$95.50.]

Country concerts keep happening at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion, and I can tell you why — crowds, and I mean big crowds, keep showing up for them.

So it was fitting that at the May 1 concert headlined by Brantley Gilbert, another country show was announced. Hank Williams Jr. will perform at the venue in Rogers on Aug. 22, it was announced at the show. Southern rockers .38 Special and Whiskey Myers will join the festivities.

AMP officials have yet to confirm the event, which also means details are sparse on ticket availability. I’ll update you as more information arrives.

Concert review: Brantley Gilbert, May 1 at the Arkansas Music Pavilion

May 2nd, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Brantley Gilbert at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion on May 1. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Democrat-Gazette.

Brantley Gilbert at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion on May 1. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Democrat-Gazette.

Somewhere past the halfway mark of Brantley Gilbert‘s Friday (May 1) concert at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion, he shucked off his T-shirt, which featured the words “Come As You Are,” a nod to a song title by the seminal rock band Nirvana.

Underneath, Gilbert revealed two things: Large arms, the result of copious amounts of time spent in a gym, and a camouflage tank top. He called attention to the camouflage coloring, too, making sure his country music fans saw it.

The combination of clothing intersects precisely with the spot in the music world that the Georgia native seeks to occupy. He’s a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, with his pockets chains and his love Guns and Roses, whose very name he appropriated into a song title. But he’s also within the ranks of modern country music, or as it’s sometimes called, bro country, with its predilection for tailgates and bonfires.

Brantley GilbertWEB002If Gilbert leans in one direction to tip the balance, it’s in the direction of rock ‘n’ roll. Four times, his band played the lick to a familiar rock song as a prelude or postscript to a song of his own creation. None of those songs, which included Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood,” were flushed into full versions, but the point was made. Gilbert’s backing band looked the part, too, with three-foot-long dreadlocks, all-black clothing and a six-inch tall yellow mohawk split between the players. There was also the very telling note on the setlist between the songs “Take It Outside” and “Small Town Throwdown.” It read only “rock jam” and the band members did just.

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Brantley Gilbert band drummer Ben Sims.

For his part, Gilbert rushed about the stage, motioning for the crowd to respond and twirling his handheld microphone in circles. He rarely addressed the crowd during the fairly tidy set, which spanned 14 songs in about 80 minutes. For all the rock posturing and yelling, I preferred Gilbert in his more tender moments, such as the song “One Hell of an Amen,” which he told the crowd was dedicated to two men who changed his life, and he offered it as a tribute to the armed services. On his bigger, brasher songs, he lacked the vocal oomph to match. Either he doesn’t have the voice of his contemporaries on the country scene, or he was hoarse just for last night. I’m not sure which. But Gilbert’s smart, too, and he turned the microphone to the crowd on multiple occasions. They were happy to oblige. And what a crowd it was, too. More than 7,000 tickets were sold before the start of the event, and a large walk-up crowd pushed that number much higher on a perfect spring night.

Casey Donahew

Casey Donahew

Michael Ray and the Casey Donahew Band had the privilege of warming up for Gilbert, and both had the monster crowd in front of them. I didn’t make it into the venue early enough to hear any of Ray’s set — I was still on my 10-minute walk from my car to the venue — but did catch all of Donahew’s. His band came out playing a snippet from progressive rock band Rush’s “Working Man.” It’s fitting this would be Donahew’s walk-up music. He’s utilitarian country — sturdy, never very flashy but also never boring. About the only time he got worked up was when he offered an aside in support of the right to bear arms, a message he also proudly displayed behind him as a backdrop. Meanwhile, venue staff made sure to stop all pocket knives from coming into the venue at the security checkpoint.

Both acts I watched enjoyed raucous responses. At one point, Gilbert squatted onstage to address the crowd, and he crouched there for three minutes as the applause rained down on him. It was a spontaneous moment, and he looked genuinely taken aback by the level of adoration.

“What’s happening in Arkansas?” he wondered aloud, to more cheers.

What’s happening is the residents of Northwest Arkansas are showing their love for country music, an early theme at the venue that continued heartily in the second show of this season. And it’s not likely to go away. A concert with Hank Williams Jr. on Aug. 22 was announced at the beginning of Donahew’s set. Country music in its various forms continues unabated at the Arkansas Music Pavilion. And so does the response for it.

Bringing Chicago to you — Chicago, May 3 at the AMP

May 1st, 2015 at 11:41 am



Lee Loughnane, the trumpet player for the band Chicago, told me the band’s concerts get many reactions. A common one is this: Someone will say “I didn’t know they did that song, too!”

Yes, that’s the kind of thing that happens when you have so many hits, and those hits get so much play on oldies and classic rock stations. And it’s the kind of thing that happens when you’ve sold more than 100 million albums — yes, more than 100 million, which ranks them near the top of the all-time sales list — in their career.

And local fans will get the chance to hear hit after hit, from “Colour My World” to “Make Me Smile” to “Saturday in the Park.”

The band’s current tour comes to the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion on Sunday (May 3). I chatted with Loughnane about the band’s recording process and building a setlist when the group has so many hits to choose from. You can read my story in today’s What’s Up! section or online.

Tickets for Sunday’s show range from $42-$97 and are available through the venue’s website.

I’ll see you there.